hard hearted


—niki kirby / 11.02.21
“And I will take out their stubborn heart of stone and replace it with an obedient heart of flesh”
—Ezekiel 36:26

Hard-hearted is not a term I would normally assign to myself. Typically, I like to think of myself as kind and loving, but recently I noticed on several different occasions, that no matter how much I tried to squash it down, I felt hurt and angry, which apparently is the blinking warning light that a crust is forming on your heart. 

You may be wondering, how I came about this conclusion...allow me to tell you about a trip I took recently to a “camp” that you may be familiar with. I started my journey to this “camp” by feeling personally offended over something that happened, and that offense shifted easily to me feeling threatened. After I settled comfortably into the basecamp of “threatened and offended,” it was only a short hike to get from there to the next stop on the mountain called “forgotten and oppressed.” And then, just when I thought the journey couldn’t get any more exciting, I reached the summit, which is affectionately nicknamed “I’m just done with people,” or more officially known as “Cynicism Camp.”  Now, even though you might think this is a very exclusive camp, it’s actually plenty big enough for everyone! In fact, I recognized many familiar faces there, including lots of celebrities and influencers…How fun is that? I got to be in the same camp as all those cool people! Once there, I realized I was sure to never be bored because there was an event coordinator whose job was to keep your mind plenty busy with the three Cs: comparing, complaining, and controlling. It’s quite catching once you really get in the swing of things! The cool thing about this “camp” is that you don’t get physically tired because there's not any real physical activity there, but rest assured, there IS plenty of mental spinning to make you feel productive. In fact, you may even find that you sleep less because your mind just magically doesn’t stop while you’re there! To me, the best part of this camp was the sense of “control” it gave me over my circumstances. It was definitely the activity I spent the most time trying to perfect! I mean, who needs sleep, exercise, and healthy relationships when you can “hole up” at Cynicism Camp?!   

OK, so clearly, I’m nothing if not a smidge dramatic, but in hindsight, I can see myself walking right into this trick of the enemy like a rabbit walking into a snare. Thankfully, God did give me a few warning lights to keep me from taking up a permanent residence there. On multiple occasions when I was crying out to God over what is still a very real conviction in my spirit, I heard him tell me to “soften.” This made no sense to me because all around me I was witnessing things that were very real and very literal threats to both my family’s and humanity’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. What I was seeing was very much real; it was not made up. That’s the sneakiest thing about the devil’s plan to make us cynical…it often starts from a place of conviction over something very real. It can be as simple as a small offense or as serious as witnessing evil and injustice playing out in our world. For those of us wired to want to “do” (or in less flattering terms “control”), the idea of assuming a stance of soft-hearted trust and refusing to become jaded is completely counterintuitive. And yet, it is the stance I so clearly heard God ask me to take.  {Insert eye roll and heavy dramatic sigh!}

Now let me be clear, I believe we are called to partner with God in pushing back against the evil in our world.  Remember, Jesus prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven.” That's an active prayer that we are to participate in as the church. Furthermore, I also believe that when we witness injustice and evil, the appropriate response from us should be a righteous indignation. Being soft-hearted does not mean being soft-spined. In fact, I would argue that to remain soft-hearted and refuse to become cynical takes a tremendous amount of strength. In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” I remember years ago hearing my parents teach on this verse and how the idea of “meekness” has been somewhat lost in translation over the centuries. We tend to think of a meek person as somewhat of a cowardly person. But in fact, to be meek simply implies “strength under control”…think about the fact that a horse has tremendous strength and might, yet it willingly restrains itself from unleashing all its power and speed, choosing instead to be submissive to its rider.  Soft-heartedness, or “meekness” as Jesus calls it, is the stance we must assume no matter the circumstance. As students or followers of Jesus, we are not above our master, and if our Rabbi made a point not just in his words, but also in his example, to show the value of a soft heart, then we too must be vigilant here and not allow ourselves to get hard hearted. This would seem almost an impossible ask for us if it were not for the help available to us through the Holy Spirit.

And so, for the past few weeks I have been slowly working in conjunction with God to heal the crusted, hard spots in my own heart. I recognize that this is a work that will never be finished on this side of heaven, but it is a necessary work, nonetheless. The single most important step for me was just the recognition and confession of my hurts and hard spots. It took me literally sobbing one day to Jesus confessing all my hurts, fears, and the ways in which I had tried to handle them myself for me to be able to see just how jaded I had become in a very short amount of time. After that day, I felt it impressed on my heart to go and be with people. Which, for the record, was the absolute last thing I felt like doing. You see, it was people who had caused the hurt in the first place. And so, even though the allure of staying planted in “Camp Cynicism” was strong, I knew I had a choice to make and decided to risk taking my wounded heart back out where it could very possibly get hurt again and simply go be with people. I began the simple art of being human by doing life with others, and I could almost immediately feel myself soften. This week I am starting to meet with three women from my church weekly to do life together. It’s an hour out of my week with people I don’t know very well, but it feels like a safeguard against the isolation and cynicism that is rampant in our culture right now.

I also took inventory of what else I could do to “guard my heart” and realized that the media I was consuming was a very large contributing factor. And so, I set some very strict but sustainable parameters for myself as far as consuming news and social media. It is not realistic for me to be off social media or never read the news, nor do I feel God is asking me to. I do, however, feel that limiting the time spent consuming it is prudent.  I discovered the “mute” feature on social media and muted lots of people who I may even agree with, but who were nonetheless causing me to get “riled up” (as we say in Kentucky). That “muting” has been a game changer, as have the hours and days I have restricted myself from consuming social media in general.  I have been taking “Shabbat” or “Sabbath” off every single weekend and also started a sort of intermittent fasting from social media where I only look at it for a set amount of time during an 8-hour window. For me it’s typically meant twice a day for around 10 minutes each time between the hours of 11 and 7. That means I’m not consuming it first thing when I wake up or right before bed. It’s amazing the influence it has on your mind when it’s the first thing you look at in the morning or right before you go to bed. I highly recommend playing around with some sort of practical but sustainable parameters around the media you consume. 

Finally, the last thing I felt needed to shift was refilling the void that was left when I cut out that consumption of media by filling it with truth. It is well documented that our brains are “neuroplastic” and have the ability to change with our thoughts, similar to the way a car driving the same path repeatedly creates a sort of “rut”…in our minds, it gets harder to change those thought patterns that are repeatedly playing. I see that in myself and want to change it but have realized that I need to replace the old thoughts with truth. Or as the bible says, I need to “write God’s word on my heart.” I think that’s part of what it means when the Bible is referred to as the “living word”…the idea is that meditating on the truth of the Bible can literally change us. So, for me, I am really trying to make space to write God’s word on my heart.

All three of these practices are just that, practices. I am not “fixed” of the disease of hard-heartedness because that is not the actual disease at all…sin is the disease. Even though when we accept Jesus’s offer to follow him, our sin is no longer counted against us, it is important to note that our sin nature is neither “reformed nor removed.” As long as we live on this earth, we will be bent towards doing things apart from God. That's all sin is…desiring to live life apart from God. So, things like hard-heartedness and cynicism are just the fruit of trying to go this life alone. And so, this pursuit of a soft heart is a daily practice. It’s one I will mess up before this blog post is even published, but if there is any hope to be had for real change happening in our world, it will require not the loud sound of cynics yelling, but the quiet, meek sounds of soft hearts beating. The stakes are too high for us to ignore this truth, friends.

Today, as we start a new month, I am beyond thankful that I am not starting this month from a place of bitterness, but rather a place of rested trust and a healing heart. My convictions over what hurt me are still there. In fact, the convictions themselves are just as strong as ever, but now instead of compulsively spinning my wheels trying to solve the world’s problems, I think I’m beginning to realize that a hard-hearted, cynical state of being is counterproductive to progress, no matter what the issue. 

Even though the world and its evils have not changed, I can rest in faith knowing it’s not me that is the commander of this battle. And like any good soldier knows, marching orders come from the top down. The commander of my army has placed an incredibly high value on wholeness and soft-heartedness. Right now, my marching orders are to “go and be whole.”  Being “whole” for me right now means fighting the battle to keep a soft heart of flesh while the world and the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than for my heart to turn to cold, hard stone. Could these be your marching orders too? I pray they are and wish you all a wonderful start to your November, friends!